“Highly Paid Buffoon: Interview With Danny Kaye”

The Tuscaloosa News – Mar. 23, 1958

By: Don Ross (Herald Tribune Service)

NEW YORK—Danny Kaye, whose new movie, “Merry Andrew,” opens here this week, grew indignant the other night talking about a writer who depicted him recently as a profoundly lugubrious and fearful man in private life.

Slouching in an easy chair in his hotel suite, looking quite carefree, feet cocked on a coffee table and jingling several coins in his hands, Kaye pictured himself an optimist on and off the stage who has no tremendous unsatisfied yearning or fears and is pleased with his career.

His career really began in 1940 when he stopped the Broadway stage show, “Lady in the Dark,” by reeling off a tongue-twisting song containing the names of 50 Russian composers. His fame grew until he became an international favorite and one of the highest paid buffoons.

“Yeah, I’m happy most of the time,” he said. “Oh, sure, I’ve got some emotional problems, but who hasn’t?” He shrugged them off as relatively unimportant.

Kaye was in New York for a brief visit to tout his movie, his twelfth, in which he plays the part of a shy, sensitive English schoolmaster who runs away and becomes a circus clown.

Kaye, who is 45 and remarkably boyish looking, was dressed in dark pants, a white shirt and a white sweater vest. His dark tie was unloosened and his collar unbuttoned. As the interview went on, he unloosened the tie until it came off altogether, and he unbuttoned his shirt until it was open down to the waist. Occasionally, he would drape the tie over his left ear.

“They say I’m tense and distraught,” he said. “I guess people have a misconception of me. In films they see me flinging myself all over the screen. Actually, I can sit still almost longer than anyone I know.”

He sat pretty still for an hour except for fiddling with his tie and shirt and jingling the coins. Twice he got up to hold short telephone conversations with agents who were trying to get him theatre seats for that evening.

Once he went into the next room briefly to talk to his wife Sylvia Fine. Their eleven-year-old daughter, Dena (named for Kaye’s song hit, “Deena, Is There Anything Feena in the State of Caroleena?”) flitted between the two rooms.

Kaye has been known to walk out on an interview altogether. His wife has been quoted as saying that he does this because he is self-conscious. He has been quoted as saying that he does it because the questions have become unbearably silly.

“When I go off to work, I wind up like a spring,” said Kaye who is noted for his frenetic pantomiming and his nonsense songs in which he deliver such lines as “git gat gittle.”

“If I were wound up like that all the time the men with white coats would come and take me away.”

He compared himself to a fire horse that munches oats placidly in his stall until the bell clangs and makes him prance and neigh.

“Getting ready backstage for my appearance is my firebell,” said Kaye, whose flame-colored mop of hair has darkened through the years until now it is a rather sedate auburn.

He was asked if enjoys himself as hugely as his audiences.

“Many nights I have more fun than they do,” he said.

“Sometimes I don’t have any fun at all but the audience doesn’t know this because I do a workmanlike job no matter how I feel. I never know when I’m not going to have any fun. I don’t say to myself ‘Tonight, no fun.’ Many nights I’m dead tired but five minutes after I go on all the weariness is gone.

“I guess I catch something from the audience. I’m giving the audience happiness and they are giving it right back to me by being happy.”

For the last several years he has spent much time clowning for diseased, crippled and undernourished children in parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle-East.

The children are being given milk and other foods by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef). Films have been made of the Kaye visits and shown all over the world to publicize the work of Unicef.

"I have never been distressed by sickness,” Kaye said when he was asked how it was possible to keep a laughing face while looking at the children.

“You know, I’m interested in medicine.” (He likes to watch surgical operations.) “I accept the conditions of these children as a matter of fact. If I can do something to make life easier for them, I’m delighted. But I’m not on any crusade and I’m not brooding about them.”

He was asked if there was any chance that he will come back in a Broadway show.

“Let’s Face It,” in 1941, in which he sang the memorable “Melody in 4F,” was his last such appearance. His last vaudeville appearance in New York was at the Palace in 1953.

“Always a chance of a Broadway stage show but nothing definite,” Kaye said, adding that he gets far more satisfaction out of appearing on the stage than in the movies.

“I’m the kind of performer who doesn’t work as well in front of a blank wall, or a movie camera, as in front of people,” he said.

It was time for him to dress for the theater. He said goodbye, grinning amiably and looking as wholesome, youthful and uncomplicated as a counselor at a boys’ summer camp, and certainly not like a man whose heart is sad and fearful.

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